"The Author-Preneur with Something To Say That You'll Love To Read."

Simple Acorn Squash 2.0

OK so round two of the simple squash recipes is another acorn squash deal.  Halve it and core out the seeds.  Paint the hollow with melted butter. Bake it at 325 until golden brown and smelling a bit roasted (about an hour).  When you take it out, shred some extra sharp New York cheddar cheese into the center and crumble large pieces of apple smoked bacon in as well.

For a real bender of flavor drop in a few cubbed pieces of a Macintosh apple.  Or, you may twist the recipe a bit by filling the hollow with a cream of extra sharp cheddar soup (and still crumbling in the smoked bacon).  With each scoop of soup you scrape a bit of the squash into your mouth as well. Mmmmm.



Simple Acorn Squash 1.0

Autumn cannot come and go without a plethora of squash foods and recipes.  So, today we are serving an acorn squash with a roasted onion and sausage filling.

Dice your onions and saute them until they start to brown or roast them in your favorite fashion.  Grind your favorite sausage and add to the sauted onions.  I put in some garlic (duh), a bit of ground rosemary and wine, along with a few spoonfuls of curry powder.

Bake the halfed acorn squash (scoop out seeds with an ice cream scoop) at about 350 for about an hour (or when just starting to get dark brown).  Add a scoop of the stuffing to each squash and return to the over nof 10 more minutes on 250.

Sometimes just a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom is a great finishing taste...but just a smidgen.



The Pies of Autumns

As the crisping air approaches and the "goldening" and "reddening" of the leaves comes to be, the heart and the mind and belly turn to the pies of autumn.  There is a title for you: "The Pies of Autumn".  Could it be a reality series?  I hope not!

Think about what you will be making this year and step out of form and mold and try a new recipe or two.  Mollie Katzen always has some really thought and taste provoking options for the season - http://www.molliekatzen.com/ so be sure to check her site out.  Her Sunlight Cafe cookbook is sensational.

I have noticed that we do not stray far from our standard menus in life.  It's funny, I hear a lot of grumbling about repetition of menus from folks (keeping the menus the same in the industry is driven by cost and risk factors), but in reality most folks never stray from the same set of dishes on a regular and routine basis.  So, why not take a personal oath to try and mix it up a bit this season.

Moosewood has a great pumpkin pie recipe that calls for NO SUGAR.  It uses maple syrup instead.  A worthy pie.  Or how about adding some dark chocolate squares to that apple pie?  Maybe a few pears.

Whatever the shake up, just give it a try.  Most of the main ingredients that lend themselves to the "pumpkin-pie-ness" of the pie; or the "apple-pie-ness" of the pie, will be the same.  The taste buds will be moored to the dock by cinnamon, butter, nutmeg and the like.  So go a little wild, and expand what you are able to taste, experience and appreciate!



Sloppy Joes

The staple foods at camp includes a good old Sloppy Joe.  This morning I am sautéing some onions and garlic as the base for the sloppy joe sauce.  I like to throw in some peppers and some pureed mixed vegetable (adding some stealth vegetable is always a goal in a camp kitchen).  I will add some barbecue sauce that matches our standard or some of our homemade sauce (click here for recipe card of BBQ sauce), and then some tomato sauce.  Once it starts to simmer, I will get the kitchen staff to taste it and see what they think needs to be added. Brown sugar and powdered mustard are staples for the mix.  Give it a try and play with the taste and texture to arrive at your own magic mix.  Make sure you have a good beef to fry up and a superior roll to place it on.



The WOW factor

The WOW factor is an important part of meals and celebration.  Done properly, it can give people a place of departure for conversation when they do not already have something to talk about with each other.

The WOW factor is something simple and easy to achieve.  You simply try to add one little item that opens the heart and the palate to a sense of uniqueness and treat.  You may have a plain meal, but the WOW factor diverts attention away from the routine and familiar and says..."This is special".

At camp it is a simple as offering a new fruit.  When peaches come in and are reasonably priced, buying them changes up the routine of the daily four fruits that we always offer.  Pears do the same.  Corn on the cob is a WOW factor during the summer.  We get to shuck the corn husks (we ask each camper to do one or two) and then we add it to our simple meal of burgers and hotdogs.  The context (for us camping) is tapped a little and we are given a slightly altered view for a second, when the WOW is added to the meal.

Maybe it is chocolate covered strawberries, maybe it is Indian food one night for dinner - with naan; whatever the slight deviation from what people expect, you are giving them a delight, something to talk about, and a tiny piece of celebration in their community of life.



Summer's Here

Summer Camp is upon us again.  We have been working hard getting the new kitchen staff trained in the mystic ways of the camp kitchen.  There have been a few simple injuries and a lot of laughs.  It is really good to have a kitchen crew that knows how to laugh and work at the same time.

The price of peaches has been great, so we have been able to add them to the standard offerings of apples, bananas, kiwis, and oranges so far this summer.  I did notice that a lot of the meat and dairy prices went up this week.  So, all of you cooks out there, watch the summer trends.

We spent some time smoking some meats on the grill.  Regardless of the type of wood used, I like to slow cook the meat before it hits the grill.  This way the meat is receptive to the flavoring of the grill heat and smoke.  It tends to permeate the meat better when the fats and juices are already exposed and leaving the meat.  It does make it tricky to get the meat off the grill when it is so succulent, so be sure that your grill is clean and also sprayed well before the meat hits it. Have a sturdy spatula on hand and tongs as well.

As summer is here, make sure you stay well hydrated out there.  The humidity is particularly tough on all you campers, so drink plenty of water and eat lots of fruit.  All of you camp kitchen staff, good luck with your programs this summer.  May they be safe and enjoyable.

All our organizing and menu prepping is finished here, my first book (in 2010) is at bookstores now (CLICK HERE), and the second one is mostly done being edited, so it is back to blogging for the summer.  Get ready for some tasty treats and creative ideas from the camp kitchen.



Refinement of Taste

Fasting offers a full array of unique opportunities for people that they may not normally have.  I utilized 3 of my 4 blogs to ask folks to fast for the Gulf Oil Mayhem and Disaster.  I reiterate that today and ask you to fast and pray during one meal a day until this madness is stopped.

Today, I want to get back on track for the blogs and look at fasting from food at Father Tom's Cafe.  Fasting from food has a tendency, over time, to help us refine our sense of taste.  Almost with the same intensity that stopping smoking can have on the olfactory and gustatory senses.  A heighten sense of taste is a byproduct of abstaining from food for just one meal; or, even a whole days' worth of meals.

There is a sharpness added to the mind if you do not fast too long - over too many days.  Folks often notice feeling more cognitively flexible and supple of mind.

There are the spiritual benefits that come from fasting, particularly if you replace meal time with prayer time.  It gives you time to focus on inner matters or social matters in prayer with the Father of All Nourishment.  It also gives you some time to sit in silence before the Father - a Sabbath of the heart if you will.

Finally, there is also the feeling of being hungry.  Very seldom do we tubby Americans ever feel at a loss for anything.  Feeling hungry on a regular basis may plug us in to the sense of need that most of the planet experiences on a frequent basis.  Like the prophets of the desert, being hungry will make us more socially aware and Divinely called.  Hungering and thirsting tends to build our passion about people who are going without.

Give fasting a try.  Here is a wonderful reference to fasting from Saint John Chrysostom - http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles4/ChrysostomFasting.php

Next post...Back to FOOD.



Fast from a Meal until the Oil Outrage is ended

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote of the responsibility of all men in a free society (Heschel insisted that in a free society where some are guilty, all are responsible) in "The Moral Outrage of Vietnam".

"It is weird to wake up one morning and find that we have been placed in an insane asylum while asleep at night. It is even more weird to wake up and find that we have been involved in slaughter and destruction without knowing it."

The words may be about Vietnam, but there is a taste of crude oil in it when I hear it. There is a truth to the weight I feel when I wake up and remember that my need for fuel and energies of fuel has been responsible for the fuel leaking into the Gulf right now. I am the one responsible. We are all responsible.

People of faith - particularly the religious leaders - should be making more noise about this tragedy. Can't we see that the "waters are turning to blood" again. We have seen this before, this type of destruction and greed. We have allowed too much "fast technology" to tread in areas they obviously have no business treading. 

There should have been a few - if not more - viable options on standby for such a hideous occurrence. Have we learned nothing from the Exxon Valdez incident.  This oil leak is not a spill, this is a horror. The religious leaders should be down on the Gulf calling people to fast and pray, begging for an answer and challenging people to put on sackcloth and ashes and call on God. There should be no silence.

Fast from one meal a day and call on God for an answer and a repairer of the rig. Pray the arterial surgeons would share how they stop arterial leaks with these oil hounds. Pray that people would be able to clean up the horrible affects of oil and for the countless people whose lives will be altered beyond recognition.

Fast and Pray because of this moral outrage - and don't sit still.  Get others involved.



Odd Numbers and Plating Things Up

I run a camp kitchen, so there is no vision a five star rating in my future, but that does not mean that we don't try to go a little gaga with the food sometimes.  I insist that my soups be homemade, rich and sumptuous.  I like to serve special items on occasion to break up the routine - like hot chai.  And we often serve our cakes plated up with a drizzle and a mint leaf.

We don't do this all of the time, but doing a little something out of character of "camping foodservice" in order to WOW folks and make them say, "these guys are willing to go a little beyond".

It is important to use odd numbers when doing designs and plating.  Say you want to do a chocolate cake with a strawberry on top and a chocolate glaze drizzle.  Lay the strawberry slice on the corner of the cake and drizzle the chocolate over the cake diagonally, corner to corner ( or on the plate under the cake in a corner to corner pattern - in relation to the cake ).

The eye is somehow more attracted to odd numbers and angular layouts.  I think it is because it poses the "conflict for resolution" in peoples' minds.  People equate a resolved issue with even numbers because of fairness.

Anyhow, try plating food in odd bunches of 3s or 5s, not 2s and 4s and see what it does for your eyes.  Drizzle corner to corner and offset that drizzle with a dot of another drizzle somewhere along the corner or edge of the plate/food item.  It makes a difference.

Bread of Life

The image of Bread in scriptures and holy teaching is prolific.  It is one of those proto-seminal images and is in fact one of the basic foods people share across all cultural boundaries.  I recommend my brother's books - Brother Peter Reinhart - on bread.  He is the expert.

Today I ask you to just simply sit with the image of bread making for a bit.  Think about the idea of yeast, growing and expanding in and throughout the flour that you place it in.  It is worked into the flour by the action of kneading.  Rolling and pressing the yeast into what is becoming dough, gives it a chance to work itself into the whole mix and influence the dough to begin to rise as the gases given off by the yeast's ingestion of sugars takes place.

What is it in your life that permeates into every aspect and fold of the dough and causes growth?  What are you working into your living that has an impact on the very nature of your life and its expansion and growth? This is your yeast, and it produces the quality of the bread of your life.  What is your yeast?

Jesus encouraged us with his words:

"The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough." - Gospel of Saint Matthew, xiii, 33



Yetta 'Nother Mountain Pie

We are getting ready to do a training on the "Hill" at camp.  That is our adventure site.  The Boy Scouts are camping up there and we are going to do a dutch oven inservice and then a mountain pie inservice.  We want to give the boys a novelty idea for their camping trip.

Now, the mountain pies they will make will be simple ones with blueberry pie filling between two pieces of buttered bread and then slapped in a mountain pie iron and left to the coals for a minute on each side...and then another minute on each side again.  That is four flips and four minutes.

However, I want you to think higher-end on the pies for a moment.  Using a nice 9 grain bread, olive oil and some fine cheeses and smoked meats can add a nice twist to the simple campfire meal/snack.  Smoked turkey with provolone, asparagus and a basil-garlic-olive-oil-drizzle is sensational.  Smoked salmon, capers, and feta woul make a fine pie.  Of course cheesesteak meat and mozerella, fried onions and mushrooms is a must.  A grilled veggie and feta pie would be good too.

The experience is limited only by your lack of creativity.  Look for some of Brother Peter Reinhart's artisan bread recipes and get a nice heavy grained bread going and use some yummy innards.  There is no reason to make a horror pie in this day and age.  You can regulate what goes in it and produce something nice to go with your Cabernet.



A Good Fire - Pork and Skewers...Mmmmm

We went out to our property yesterday.  The trees we planted for the tree farm are looking great.  They survived the winter well.  On the way out, we stopped and bought some mushrooms, steak, pork, and skewers.  Loaded down with food and beverages (plenty of soda and water) we drove back the mountain roads.

Our property is 5.5 acres on the top of a mountain, overlooking Camelback Mountain.  Our land butts up against the State Game Lands, so there is plenty of wilderness all around, good hiking, and quite a bit of animal life.  We always build a fire there, and hang out in our shack.  We placed a good size shed on the land with two sets of bunk beds and all our camping gear inside.  Coming out here to cook is fun and a genuine retreat from the Camp and Retreat Center where we live.

Cooking directly over fire offers some sensational goodies.  We pretty much scarfed down the steak and mushrooms right there on the spot - no problem.  We did cook it, though.

But the pork took a special spot on the flames.  Slowly turned repeatedly, we let it get good and done.  The outside was coffee brown and black cinder in some areas.  To the kids, this looked horrid.  For me, I knew it would be perfect for the evening meal.

When we got home I took some crushed tomatoes and sautéed them in some olive oil with a good bit of crushed garlic.  While this was going to town in a pan, I de-skewered the pork and diced them in nice 1/2 inch cubes, being sure to leave the burnt sections intact.  Next I added some Walker Woods Jerk Sauce.  This paste is an awesome blend. If you have been to Jamaica, you would swear you were eating at the Pork Pit if you use this stuff.  That is GOOD.

I let this sauté in the pan for about a half hour on low.  Not only did it soften up the pork that was cooked and dried out quickly over the open flame, but it pulled all of that charcoal out of the meat and spread it throughout the sauce.  That is flavoring at its best.  Some chick peas and some red beans certainly made the jambalaya PERFECT.

Folks who cook in the kitchen often "burn" things.  But there are some "burned" things that really can be dealt with and enhanced by knowing how to drawl out the flavor and pass it around - in an among the sauce.  Chicken and beef cooked on an open flame or grill can offer the same gifts to the meal.  Bringing grilled foods in and allowing them to mingle with more of the marinade can turn a good meal into an awesome meal.

Play around with caramelization of meats and veggies and get a real sense of what the taste blends with.  It will not only save you when things go a bit too far in the heat department.  It will help you add layers of flavor and taste to meals that you have been serving your whole life.

PS - I lost 10 lbs in two weeks on the South Beach Diet.  I've just eaten more meat than I am used to during Lent.



BBQ Sauce

There are tons of good recipes for barbecue sauce from scratch.  You can probably go online right now and find 10,000 of them with no problem.  The true test is whether it matches up to the flavor you are looking for.  For that you need to know your own sense of taste and the kind of food you will use it on.  I am going to throw out some simple guidelines for the ingredients that you should try to use in making your first BBQ sauce from scratch. As always, I am gonna ask you to experiment and play around with the flavors to find what suits your style and meal.

These are the things I start with: crushed tomatoes (some use ketchup), brown sugar, garlic, apple cider vinegar, orange peel zest (and some orange juice itself - fresh squeezed), cinnamon, caramelized onions, ginger, apple sauce (for thickening and flavor both), nutmeg, espresso, and butter.  The amount of tang and or zest that you drawl out of the ingredients will really depend on what you are going for.  That smoked flavor can be enhanced by browning the onions and garlic just to the edge of burning - perhaps even a bit beyond.

Start out with your tomatoes.  Brown or scorch the onions and garlic.  Add them with the  brown sugar and butter.  Now Start the tasting.  Add each subsequent ingredient one at a time and get a sense of the shift in flavors.  You can add more layers by coming back and re-adding something and seeing how it tastes.  It is really a sort of craft project in the long run.  You are experimenting and creating, layer at a time, until you land that perfect flavor.

I would suggest writing down what you add as you add it and then you can go back and write a recipe from the session.  I always start with my base recipe and add to it depending what I am serving and what I am trying to accent.

Enjoy the process.



Simple Food - Simple Meal

The idea of simple food functions on several levels.  It can mean food that is relatively simply prepped, and with little fuss in the cooking - steamed vegetables with olive oil and lemon for example.  It can also mean food that brings itself together as a meal in a simple way, appearing plain - soup and bread for example.  It can also mean mean a meal that is not complex - such as steamed rice and veggies.

Any of these meanings, and all of the other ones that you imagine when you hear "simple food" give us pause from our usual meals.  They may give us a chance to sit at a plain and simple table, with those we love and live with, and share simple talk, simple communion.  Sounds a bit like a child's serving of tea in plastic service-ware to big people who can't really see tea in their cups.

There are times of the year that the major religions set aside to celebrate with food.  There are times they set aside to celebrate without food.  I am thinking, as Lent approaches -  is upon us - to share the idea of simple meal.  Simple meals of celebration are bonding for religions.  I believe it is important for families to do the same.  Simple meals can be times of bonding at home.

Have an occasional meal that is simple fare.  (Preparing it may often be far from simple - especially if you are making both soup and bread from scratch.)  We have been having a simple meal of soup and bread one day a week for the past few months.  It took the boys by surprise one night because that is all I served.  They ate a lot of it.  But the table was simple that night.  The conversation seemed different (after we got past the idea of only having soup + bread, that is).  It felt sort of like a sacramental meal, rather than just supper.

Call it what you will, but give it a name.  And, have it regularly - every three months, monthly, or weekly.  Have a candle, dim the lights, use cloth napkins.  Hold hands and offer a blessing.  This little "starter" meal can really become the quintessential essence of what meals with loved can be.  It almost become an icon of what meals are.  There are times when we will not sit like this - by design or by default.  But, let "simple meal" be the image of community around the table.  Hearts bonded to hearts.  Bodies nourished as souls are fed.



Practicing the PRESENCE in the Kitchen

There are great books and resources available for recipes and technique and practice in the kitchen, but these don't solve all the problems that we cooks run into.  There is the demon of ennui and lack of interest that haunts us, not just at noon-day, but at all times.  It is the lackluster belief and feeling that we are tired, over-worked, nothing matters, and we are lost in a sea of people who just come, eat our hard work and leave - perhaps even without any interaction or comment.

I have found the practice of the presence of God - Brother Lawrence's spiritual classic - to be a revelation of vitality.  It perks me up when the inner lineaments are lagging and worn.

The whole idea of the Good Brother is to imagine the Divine One with us in the kitchen as we clean, prep, and cook the delights of the kingdom.  It may take the form of an inner dialogue with the Ancient of Days or an outer - verbal - dialogue.   It may simply be to pray love into the food we make by asking - as we cook - that each ingredient be filled with joy; that each person partaking of these elements would be given peace, that love would permeate every aroma and spoonful.  Pray that the food would really change lives.

It gives meaning to the labors of the kitchen and it deepens a part of the cook that other actions, thoughts, and feelings cannot touch.  It nourishes our own spirit and soul.  It enhances the flavor of our own lives and our connection to the All-Wise.

Check out this book.  Also, check out some form of practice that nourishes you - the cook - as you do the countless tasks necessary to nourish the people all around you.  Some of the Eastern Fathers of the Church challenged the cook to pray the Jesus Prayer all throughout the day.  Some others pray the Shema, the Rosary, or the Psalms.  Open your heart and let it's love flow into your work and your creations.

Brother Lawrence's classic is at the link below.


Tom +

Sausage and Barley Soup with Vegetables

The kitchen at a camp, like a restaurant, ends up with a fair amount of leftovers at the end of a day.  And while it does not excuse folks from starting soups with fresh vegetables, it is a good idea to plan menus around what you know you can do with the leftovers.  It is a great idea to save your meat-sauces to start chili, and to save your vegetables to start vegetable soup.

Today I am starting with some sausage, browning it up in olive oil and fresh garlic.  This browning will give the soup stock some color and rich flavor.  I am going to toast/roast some barley in a dry caste-iron pan - no oil or just a touch - 'til it gets just a bit darkened.  This will add some more robustness to the stock as well.  We'll add some crushed tomatoes to some steamed vegetables and get them simmering in a separate pot with some water.

Fresh garlic will be added to the simmering pot along with ground pepper and cumin.  Once this starts to simmer I'll add the sausage and the barley.  As this is simmering I'll start a fresh pan of mirepoix.  That'll get added last.  Once all of the ingredients are added you can begin the process of tasting.  More water can be added, and some more cumin if you need it.  I also save the basil for last.  Keep playing with the tastes 'til it arrives at today's perfection.

Enjoy yourself while cooking; it gets more love cooked into the soup!


Tom +

Cookbooks + Technique

Camp Cooking is a lot different than other forms of cooking.  You have got to be really creative.  Creative, patient, and able to eat ash - or, as we call it here at the Plateau "Hill Spice" or "Mountain Spice".

The fluctuating heat that comes from an open fire - or even a deep bed of coals (which is the preferred heat - but kids don't often - nor hungry dads - wait long enough to get good coals) is tough to work with.  Caste-iron pans cook differently than the usual kitchenware.  They hold heat - which is great if you remember to factor that in to your cooking.

On of the things that is a really important in camp cooking (as in any kitchen cooking) is getting some robust resources at your fingertips.  We have collected some of them at our camp kitchen website:

We have tried to pull together a few cookbook resources, some chef links (you have got to check out Chef Jacob Burton's podcasts and website, Molly Katzen's site with videos and sensational veggie recipes, and Peter Reinhart's blog on baking).  But you'll need more than this.

Search the shelves to have some good technique books and a few recipe/cookbooks in your cadre of resources.  Build some good files on your computer, too.  I would recommend opening a google docs and spreadsheet site.  It is free and you can upload tons of resources to a digital e-file that you can access anytime, from anywhere.  It'll sync to your computer, so you can access it even when your server is down.

You should look into some good camping books like BIG BOOK OF CAMP COOKING, ROUGHING IT EASY, and COOKING THE DUTCH OVEN WAY.  You can use the amazon search at the bottom of the blog pages to search.  Make something SUMPTUOUS to eat today - over a fire, or over a stove.

Resources are the backbone of any path you choose to grow in.


Tom +

Food Safety is a Must

For all of you folks who educate staff on food safety issues, I want to share a resource that we have received from the ServSafe website.  The resources are free, and you can download them from their website, you simply need to make an account.  You can also view them at our food service website on the Staff Resources page.

Just click on our Pocono Plateau Foodservices Handbook - part II and it will take you directly to our on-line folder of posters and quizes.  I use them to compile the second have of our food service handbook, obviously.  they are great handouts that folks can take with them (we bind them in with our part I of the handbook and give each staff member one).  We go over one poster a day.  I review them and then give them the quiz too.  I sign off that they took them and viola, you have a record of staff education for survey time.

It is critical that eveyone is on the same page in the kitchen.  This helps facilitate that.  Good food is safe food.


Tom +

Mountain Pies - Camp Cooking at its FINEST

First, for those that have never made a mountain pie - you have missed out.  Essentially there is a pie iron that hinges open, and has long handles.  You open the iron, put a smear of butter or a spray of not stick pan spray on each side.  Place a piece of bread on each side of the iron.  Then, fill it with the filling of your choice.

You can use cheese and sauce and toppings to make a pizza mountain pie.  You can use PBJ to make a PBJ pie.  Pie fillings are good.  Scrambled eggs, cheese and bacon (already cooked) makes a fine breakfast pie.  You can do cheese, taco meat and salsa.

Basically you can fill that sucker with whatever you think will be a fine mountain pie.  The tricky part is getting the fire down to coals and then sticking that iron on the coals, flipping it every minute or so. You have to experiment to get the feel for how the fire is working and how the fillings are cooking.  But the goal is a toasty golden brown pie with warm fillings.  Experiment with fillings, too.

It makes a fun evening activity and snack, all in one.



Mise En Place

Mise en place (pronounced [miz ɑ̃ plas], literally "putting in place") is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place", as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meatrelishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook requires for the menu items that he/she expects to prepare during his/her shift. - Wikipedia

This is the part of cooking that is really about - GETTING OUT ALL YOUR TOYS.  Not only all the utensils and proper accoutrement, but all of the food and ingredients.  Although it is a technical aspect of the kitchen and involves each food item,  accurate scales and measures, bowls and cutting boards, I cannot rid my mind of an image from childhood.  Mise en place always makes me think of my Play-doh Fun Factory.

I know it is totally silly, but I can distinctly remember doing mise en place when I played with the fun factory - without knowing what the devil mise en place was.  Are you with me.  You set up the machine, the rolling pins, the knives, the play-doh, and then all the extras that you thought should be there.  There were cups and pans and water (not an officially sanctioned event), there were plates and spatulas and cookie cutters.  It was all layed out on the table, everything in order; everything in its place.

OK, enough of the digression/regression.  I think you get the picture.  And, I hope I have not ruined your elevated status as a cook so that when you say mise en place - with your best French accent - that you think of little Tommy and his Play-doh Factory.  Alas, there are worse crimes...

At any rate, mise en place is truly the pulling it all together piece.  It is the prep time.  Make sure you have everything you need at your disposal - immediate disposal.  If you need the scale, then get the scale out and bring it over.  If you need the knives, get them - over here.  Bring it all together.  What happens is that this puts you in one space so that as the magical, mystical love that goes on when you start to create something is not disturbed.  So many folks miss the sacredness of cooking cause they are too busy running around and getting stuff at the wrong time.

So, think about your current practice of cooking and see if you can't FRENCH it up a bit by doing mise en place, like the BIG CHEF's.  It'll change your life and your cooking.

Here is a nice article on mise en place in the bigger picture:  How to Survive in a Professional Kitchen by Chef Jacob Burton.  Let's you know how to organize yourself so you can survive the whims and woes of the professional kitchen.  Good Stuff, Jacob.  Thanks!



Snacks, Frank Caliendo, and George W

With two growing boys, we burn up a lot of food just for snacks.  Once their foot hits the pavement coming out of the bus at the end of a school day, they charge up the grass to the house, mouths open and hands reaching.  Gadzooks!  You would think they have never eaten before....gobble, gobble, gobble (not to be confused with the Frank Caliendo impressions of George W at: YouTube).  At any rate, they eat A LOT.

Trying new things is always good.  They enjoy that.  We tried nachos with extra sharp cheese and some good snappy, hard, apples diced up.  They were awesome.  Add a little apricot salsa or mango salsa or peace salsa and you have a mini fruit snack with cheese and chips.  We also did the nachos with extra sharp cheese and steamed broccoli florets.

Triscuits are also a favorite.  We slice some cheese (usually extra sharp - again) onto a Triscuit, then add a piece of crab, a thinly sliced - julienned - piece of onion, avocado, and roasted pepper.  It takes some time to make these snacks - which will be consumed in 4.5 seconds flat, but it is fun watching the boys eat 'em, and I like getting out some obsession-bugs out of my system.

Another snack that has some variation built into it is bagels.  With the variety of bagels and cream cheeses it is not hard to find some new twists on an old theme.  You can add all kinds of fruits to them, too.  The key is to slice them small enough to eat with a tooth-pick.  Regardless of all the fruits and or veggies that you can build into the bagels, lox are still the favorite here.

So, plan some little tasty yum-yums for the kids in your life.  Spruce up there day with what they will consider to be a "higher-end" snack item.  Higher-end because you took the time to build it for them.



OK,This is Weird

Yesterday as I was roaming through my cafe posts, looking for a topic or food that would fill in the blanks and be a step to the next set of posts we will share together.  So, I decided on knives.  A good chat about knives, quality of knives, using knives and sharpening knives is in order.

What to my wondering eyes should appear...this morning in my e-mailbox was a new newsletter from Chef Jacob Burton.  What was the first thing I saw when I opened it: Techniques In Focus: Knife Skills.

Go figure.  Well, brother, we were on the same wavelength.  I am just gonna link folks into your site and let them view your awesome work!

So, check out the two links below and be sure to sign up for Chef Jacob's newsletter.  Jacob's stuff is always a worthwhile and fun read - or view.

Chef Jacob's Knife skills podcast:

Chef Jacob's Knife Skills e-Book:



Technique + Ergonomics

The need for simple instruction in kitchen technique, ergonomics, and practice is something that all of us share.  Someone always has a new tidbit that we can learn from.  I hold this value dear, particularly when it comes to training others.

I like to periodically pull the staff aside at the kitchen and teach them something about what goes into the work we are doing or the food we are producing.  Whether it is building a roux, or layering flavor in a soup,  it is all vital.  Sometimes it is simple to show them the cleaning power that tomato sauce has on metal.  There is always something to teach or learn.

You need to find a good source for new technique data/information.  Where are you going to turn.  I highly recommend Mollie Katzen's videos online at: http://get-cooking.answerstv.com/AnswersTV/index.aspx  You really need to see these!

You should also take a look at Chef Jacob Burton's videocast series and listen to his podcasts.  He is also highly recommened.  You can find him at: http://freeculinaryschool.com/  The videocasts are half way down the page on the left...also on youtube under is name.

Establishing these connections and these places to go is establishing listening posts.  Listening posts are vital to helping us grow into who we are and can become.  Listening Posts article, by TJM.



Inovation Drives the Use of Leftovers

For those of you who are running a kitchen for a restaurant or some venue of the hospitality industry, you know how maddening waste can be.  As the manager you are trying to maintain some level fiscal integrity and not waste, but you must always have enough on hand.

This is the same in the home kitchen.  You prepare enough food for the table at hand and then everyone's eating habits that day are different than the last time you prepared the same meal.  Arrrgh!

Taking some innovation into your own hands can help save the bottom line.  You can manage to stretch those leftovers into another meal if you do it right.

We end up with a lot of leftover rolls, bread, bagels, and buns in the course of a week.  It took about ten minutes to find a recipe on-line that would help us to alleviate this waste, use the bread products, and delight our guests.

I found a French toast casserole on-line that calls for the use of diced breads.  Mixing the bread all together so one tray of French toast is not all bagels, or all buns.  I save leftover bread stuffs in a big clear bag, and keep it in the freezer for our casserole day.  It is really a good recipe and has the hallmark taste of become a flagship dish.  It is just leftovers.

Soups are the same way.  I save all our leftovers of meat and vegetables.  If I have a ton of bacon, then I make a tomato basil bisque with bacon.  A lot of vegetables, then it is vegetarian vegetable.  Roast beef in abundance makes a nice beef barley.  On and on it goes.

Start taking stock of what seems to be leftover the most and then develop one or two recipes that will call for the use of these items.  Remember to make it sumptuous.  Since it is leftover, go the extra mile and order some fresh herbs or spices for its recreation.  You are already saving a bundle by the fact that its cost was consumed some other day.

Think this is just plain silly.  It is how the Caesar Salad was invented.  Check out its story - HERE.



A Little Zest Never Killed Anyone

Adding a little zest to the standardized menu routines that we fall into can liven them up.  Either because of time or money we find ourselves falling into routines not only in food habits but all of life.  Constraints sneak into life and can limit us or make us feel limited to the point that we reach out for the familiar and the known and so we repeat things in order to keep them safe.

Safety is important.  But, it does not mean that we cannot add some simple zest to the familiar and the safe and enhance them.  This goes for well traveled routes on the highway, and also for our simple cup of coffee in the morning.  All of our safe routines can be simply enhanced to enrich, enliven and ennoble our lives.

Let's just look at zest itself.  What was originally just the edition of some scrapings of the peel of an orange or lemon (or actually a larger "piece" of the peel) has become adding something to something else to enhance or liven it up.  Actually lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit are all zest-able.  But, there are other things we can do to zest the simple and mundane.

A pinch of cardamom goes a long way to bring depth and texture to a cup of coffee, hot chocolate, warm milk or tea.  Think of all of the masala made available in the Indian diet and cuisine.  These masalas are the zest-ifiers of food.  In some cases used to remove the tang of too old food, but in others, to drawl out the rich and robust nuances hidden in food.

So, today, use either some cardamom or some traditional citrus zest to pick up the hidden-ness and safety of some item that is a regular part of your diet and routine.  Make something that is usual into something that is sumptuous.  It really does not take much.  I am going to zest some orange into my coffee and throw a pinch of cardamom in - to boot.



The Whole Setting is So Critical

The whole setting is so critical.  I spent time with the kitchen staff yesterday talking about our mission statement.  The camp kitchen has its own mission statement: "to nourish the kingdom of God, one disciple at a time."

I shared with them how nourishment is a thing for our bodies, our minds, our hearts and our souls...not just our bellies.  We are constantly picking up nutrients from all of life.  We don't just get nutrients from food.  We get them from conversation, ambiance, smells, sights, sounds.  These things all sustain us.

This means that we need to pay attention to the way the dining hall looks because it impacts mental and emotional nourishment while dining.  We take things in through more than just our mouths.  The staff understood.

I am reminded of the hospice work I did.  It was common for me to share with families that when their loved one stopped eating, this did not mean they were not being nourished.  Their nourishment was coming from the presence of those who visited, from their words, from the sights and sounds and smells around them.

Think about your homes, too.  How is the environment where you eat nourishing you? Do you have candles burning to scent the air and provide a flickering change in the lighting.  Can you dim the lights so you can take the harshness out of your seeing and the harshness out of the day by gradually introducing nighttime.  Are their calming sounds, sights, and scents?

Folks don't think about it too much, but the dimming of the day slows us down.  I turn a lot of lights off around the house at night, not just to save energy, but to bring the energy level down slowly.  Doing this at our tables helps us introduce a calming and evening effect.  Think about it, as darkness ensues don't you recognize a shift in consciousness and mentation.  Thinking often becomes more serious at the days end.  All the deep conversations that happen around the table and couch are not just a result of the Cabernet, the evening has this effect on us.

How is your dining room or eating area decorated?  Do you have artwork around, or pictures of some kind?  What are they of, are they familiar and soothing?  These are all things to think about when you think about food.  The best gourmet meals in the world would be less enjoyable in and among a seething mound of piles and work papers.  Is there music?

How seriously have you set the scene and the mood in the room where you will take nourishment?  It can make all the difference.  Start by checking out the artwork of David Lance Goines or Mollie Katzen.  Both have wonderful styles that would add pause and dignity to your dining space.  Get a nice tablecloth and a candle or two.  How about some quiet music?

It really does make a difference.  The whole setting is so critical.



check out Mollie's art Mollie Katzen

A Nice Warm Chai, Please!

I gotta say, "chai has become a favorite here at the camp".  Both the summer folks and the off season retreat guests love chai.  It, like any good tea, has steeped its way into the hearts and minds, and palates of Americans.  It is pretty much the gift of the cafes that have popped up all over the place.  You name it, Starbucks, Seattle Coffee, Buck County Coffee, they all serve a chai.  It is that bookstore/cafe culture that has spawned the love of chai.

It is long overdue!  Make sure you check out the "sweets" recipes in Yamuna Devi's book, Lord Krishna's Cuisine.  If you are gonna drink chai, you best use it to chase some great Indian sweets.  That will give you the full effect of chai.

My first introduction to chai was as a wake up beverage at an ashram in New York.  When on retreat, we would wake up at 4 or 5 and head to the main hall for a nice tall glass of chai.  It got you going and it warmed you up fast.

Then it was in for some chanting and meditation.  Not too much chai, though, as you didn't want to have to break off in the middle of your meditation.

There are a couple of key ingredients that you will want to play with to get the exact flavor down that you like.  I make it in 10 gallon recipes, so I won't give you my ingredient measurements.  But I will tell you what I use and you can do the homework.

Start with fresh ginger.  Grate it and put it in some cheesecloth, unless you are going to strain the chai.  Add some cardamom.  I use the whole pods.  I crack them open and put hulls and seeds in all at once.  Again, either cheese cloth or strain the chai at the end.  Cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.  I tend to lean heavy on the cinnamon. I like a warming chai.

I use any one of a number of dark, strong teas.  I brew all of this together in one pot and leave it on the stove for at least 45 minutes.

After it is finished brewing, I add sugar to taste (good and sweet for the kids) sometimes honey.  And, the final item is half-and half.  Don't use powdered ginger unless you don't like the inner warmth provided by fresh grated.  Remember there is a difference in taste between using milk and or cream, so be sure you know what you are looking for.

Enjoy it folks!



Chili Today - Hot Tamale

Chili - a food with a thousand faces.  Aside from the countless meat or meatless varieties, there are a myriad of colors and flavors.  It really is a food group of its own.  I have whole cook books with just chili recipes.  Some have up to 500 varieties.  Wow.

There are a few ingredients that I want to chat about that make the difference in any chili.

First is corn.  Adding corn flour, meal, or chips to your chili not only makes the flavor fuller and more robust, it can tighten up your chili.  It is really the roux of chili.  I use corn chips or taco shells here at the camp.  They crumble nicely and I always have a ton on hand.  When we serve nachos or tacos, I save the remaining corn chips or shells.  I dump them in a big bag and freeze them.  They will stay for a while like this.

Second is garlic.  Always use fresh grated or crushed.  Fresh minced if you must.  Stay away from the powders - always.

Cumin.  Add it in conjunction with your chili powders.  If you make a batch of Mollie Katsen's Veggie Chili you will get a real good idea of how this spice works in chili.  Then use that as a base of understanding for all your meat chilis.  There are other Moosewood recipes that capitalize on this fine spice, too.

This triumvirate will add some stability to any of your favorite chili recipes.  I also feel cilantro is a must for chili, but have been met with a lot of resistance from campers and guests.  This taste has not permeated American Cuisine yet.  But, someday.  Until then, I tend to add it to my own chili after cooking.  For guests, I add it to sour cream for them to use as a garnish.




Quiche Me in the Morning...then just walk away

Quiches are fun.  Think of the varieties of quiches that can be had.  Start with the thought that most quiches are just an egg and cheese pie with other stuff thrown in.  Then, ask the question: "What do I want to throw in?"  That includes a huge array of vegetables and a vast array of meats.  The combinations are endless.  Then, there is the whole question of, what cheese or cheeses compliment the vegetables and or meat you have selected?

Wow.  What a selection.  Add to that that you can eat a quiche for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack - hot or room temperature (I am not a fan of cold quiche - but some are).

At a recent retreat I served a bacon and cheddar quiche, a sausage and extra sharp quiche, and a broccoli and cheddar quiche for breakfast.  The kitchen staff stand at the line to attend to the immediate needs of the guests.  I tend to hang back - in the kitchen - and listen to what people are asking or saying to each other.  It helps me to gather input from the guests, without them knowing I am getting the info.

This one man said, "What the heck is that?"  When the reply, "Quiche" was given, he responded, "For BREAKFAST?"  Turns out he had never had quiche for breakfast.  He made it a point to find me (he did not know I had heard his response) and tell me that he had never had quiche for breakfast, but that it made sense, and it was GOOD!  Sometimes we gotta step out of the comfort zone.

Six eggs and a half a cup of milk or cream will cover the liquid for a 9" crust.  But, plan your crust, and your fillings and cheese carefully.  You need to play with how much you will add.  Sometimes the cheese dominates my quiche, sometimes the asparagus.  It all depends.  Put the cheese into the bottom of the quiche, add some guts, and then pile the rest (and majority of the cheese) on the top.  Drill a hole in the center of the cheese with your fingers and slowly, ever so slowly, pour in the egg/cream mixture.

Lots of folks don't like to put too much "spice" into their quiche.  All my quiches have garlic, sea salt, and coarse pepper - varying measures.  I blend it right into the egg/cream mixture so it spreads out in the pouring. Don't forget dill, basil and rosemary are great herbs - especially fresh - for the majority of quiches.  In some cases tarragon and sage are also a hit.

As with any other food - PLAY AROUND WITH YOUR RECIPE.  Ain't no fun if you don't experiment.



Mirepoix + Roux

Earlier in this blog we discussed Mirepoix (classic mix of diced onions (1 cup), diced carrots (1/2 c.), and diced celery (1/2 c.) sauteed in butter).  http://tjm-fathertomscafe.blogspot.com/2009/12/mirepoix-sensational-beginning.html

Today, while making a beef stew for the camp guests, I decided to blend two traditional food preparations.   I made the mirepoix first, sauteing it in one pound of butter.  When it was good and soft (since I wanted the vegetables for the layered taste - not vegetable content), I stirred in the 4 cups of flour.  I added 1 cup of wine and then moved the whole thing over (once the embellished roux had cooled) into the braising pan with the beef.

Wow...did it simmer into a fine stew.

Check out Chef Jacob's awesome little Roux Video on You Tube .  As with all of his other videos and podcast it is informative and brings cooking within everyone's' reach.  Wander over to www.freeculinaryschool.com to see the full array of services he offers.